Beyond language skills – 5 steps to successful multilingual customer service campaigns - TELUS International Europe

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  • Beyond language skills – 5 steps to successful multilingual customer service campaigns

    September 10, 2014

    By Philippe Ougrinov

    language skills

    The world is globalizing at a remarkable rate. For the companies selling goods and services overseas this is a very good thing, representing billions in extra revenue from new and expanded markets. But it also presents some significant challenges including: how to communicate with consumers who speak different languages; how to operate in different time zones; and how to address radically different cultures?

    Anyone who doubts the importance of this issue for 21st Century business should consider this fact:

    a 2011 study from the European Commission found that 42% of consumers never purchase products and services in other languages.

    Language is not enough 

    Many make the mistake of believing that language skills alone are sufficient. However, language is only one skillset. You still need agents who have an innate desire to help customers, and then you need to specifically train them to understand and embrace the customer service culture of the clients they are serving. The right language alone is not enough.

    So, what steps can a company take to deliver successful multilingual customer service? As a business process outsourcer with locations through the globe including Romania, Bulgaria and the UK, we operate campaigns in 30 different languages, and so we face multilingual support requests every day. Here are our five tips for success in serving your own growing multilingual customer base.

    5 steps for successful multilingual customer service

    1) Begin with culture – both customer and corporate

    Culture matters both in terms of local culture of the people as well as the corporate culture of your customer service team. Crucially there needs to be a strong cultural fit between the two. To truly act as an extension of your business and brand, it’s key that customer service agents understand and embrace the culture and values of your organization as well as the people they are serving.

    In most cases it will be impractical to fulfill your multilingual customer service needs from just your home country; rather, you’ll likely need to look overseas to find sufficient language skills. Think carefully about the region and country you choose. Is it politically stable? What is the education system like? Is there a historical affinity between your country and the one in question? Do its people move freely overseas gaining the sort of experiences that will help them adapt to the culture of your customers?

    2) Recruit for a good “fit”

    Linked to corporate culture is your talent pool. Attracting, hiring and retaining the right customer service agents is often a challenge, and this is especially the case when you’re also hiring for multiple languages and a good cultural fit with your organization and customers.

    Very often the key is to locate your customer service function in a place with a cosmopolitan atmosphere. Most European capital cities can be regarded as such, to varying degrees. A city’s resource pool is one of the primary factors in deciding where to base a multilingual delivery center.

    3) Invest in training your multilingual customer care agents

    The need to support customers in multiple languages can be overwhelming. So, break it down into manageable chunks. Decide which languages to start with first. Then localize training so that it captures the right messaging, tone, and informal expressions for customers. During training, always keep the customer in mind, and how they would respond in their native language.

    Consider also building training skills in your customer service function. We do this for many of our clients, designating trainers and putting them through our rigorous Train-the-Trainer program and certification process. They are then able to train their colleagues with little or no input from the client. It streamlines and enhances the process significantly.

    4) Tailor success metrics

    With any customer service program, it is essential to define your metrics for success at the outset. These metrics should include a balance between productivity and effectiveness measures.

    It is important to pick your key metric for customer satisfaction whether it’s Net Promoter Score (NPS), Likelihood to Recommend (L2R), or Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) – and try to standardize as much as possible – but with multilingual campaigns, keep in mind that results can differ by country.  For example, some countries will generally deliver lower NPS scores due to cultural aspects including buyer behavior, consumer expectations, and even attitudes towards dealing with support agents.

    5) Plan

    Finally, consider your strategy carefully. What aspects of customer service should be delivered by multilingual agents, when is the right time for your organisation to start down this path, where should your multilingual agents be situated, and perhaps most importantly, which partner, if any, should you work with on this project?

    Should you use an outsourced provider or do it all in-house? To what extent will you centralize your support? Which locations will you choose to launch your support programs and which languages will you offer first? What support channels will you offer first – voice, email, chat, and/or social media support?

    These are all vital questions. Choosing to outsource customer support is a big decision, especially when you have multiple languages and markets to serve. Take your time to answer these questions. Visit several locations around the world. Get a feel for the culture of organizations. Plan meticulously how you will roll-out your multilingual program.

    It’s not easy to get it all right from the start, but it can be done. We’ve worked with many clients who can testify that it’s better to take the time up front, do the research, and find the right global partners. In the end, launching multilingual customer service goes way beyond language skills; and in many cases, it’s about finding partners who can make your multilingual customer service come to life!

    philippe ougrinov

    Philippe Ougrinov is VP, Sales, Marketing & Solutions at TELUS International Europe


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